Devin Bigoness recently joined the Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning (EELL) team as Chief Client Officer and Executive Director. In his role, he’s responsible for the overall strategy, leadership and execution of EELL’s custom solutions, working with the Client Solutions Team, Darden faculty and stakeholders to design and deliver custom educational programming that helps organizations build the critical capabilities they need to reach organizational goals. Bigoness brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role as he has worked in the custom program space for 19 years – first at Duke Corporate Education mainly in London (UK) and then as the Executive Director of Custom Programs at Cornell University.

Why did you decide to work in higher education?

I believe education drives progress, and education is how we move forward. Higher education offers the opportunity to take individuals, organizations and societies to move them forward – to develop new skills, new capabilities and new ways of framing the complex challenges we face in the world.

On a personal note, executive education is also a family business. My father was a business school faculty member for many years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and led University based executive education programs for numerous universities throughout his career. It has been exciting throughout my career to connect back to his experiences both as a faculty and leader in the industry.

What led you to Darden and this role of Chief Client Officer?

The University of Virginia and Darden have a rich history in customizing solutions for organizations and creating impact for individuals. I was excited to be a part of that history and help shape it for an innovative future. In working for the greater good of the world and society, businesses need to think about broader sources of value and impact.  They need to think about not just shareholder value, but stakeholder value, community value, employee value, environmental value – and business plays a key role in driving society to do that, or it needs to. Darden and UVA has an incredibly strong background and strength in that area. The Sands Institute for Lifelong Learning along with Darden Executive Education is a unique opportunity to rethink, reshape and innovate building from our past successes with a creative future.

Business professionals and organizations can be both deep and wide – you need the depth of technical expertise, and you need to have the business and leadership breadth to connect all of the pieces with the broader organizational and societal alignment. This is a key role that executive education can play for an individual and for organizations as we try to shape society for the greater good.

The Chief Client Officer role has several key components that are exciting for me:

  • To engage with the strong cross industry clients of Darden including Military, Government, Corporations and Associations.
  • To work closely with the dynamic team to help grow this area of Darden.
  • To lead a culture, system and organization that offers world-class client engagement and impact.

How would you say Darden’s approach to executive education is different?

Like any entrepreneurial organization, I think the answer will be a constant evolution as we engage with new organizations that take us in different directions as we build. However, the building blocks that we have now are focused on the immersive educational experience that we create for clients and individuals including the Darden critical thinking case method. That educational engagement is linked closely to the faculty’s expertise and the distinctive educational methods that we use. It’s also linked to that breadth and depth of expertise as both a business school and university, and the strong focus on customization.

Executive education could look different for every organization that we work with because they are distinctive in their organizational structure and strategies, and are perhaps facing specific challenges that no other organization faces. It links closely to the content and context when we deliver these types of programs. The content might be driven by faculty – their expertise, leadership, strategy, financial acumen and broader business acumen. The context of how that gets delivered, experienced and applied is very specific to that organization and the different set of individuals in the room. The content and context balance that we find is a key part of how Darden designs these programs. Darden has the ability to offer the business breadth and depth with the history that we have and then apply it for an innovative future. We’re focused on creating a content and context rich experience that builds on the educational experience that Darden has been known for since its inception.

Why is it important for organizations to prioritize lifelong learning now?

There has almost never been a time in our history that we are in a more volatile, changing environment where leaders have to be adaptable. Our society and almost every industry is dealing with the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) nature of our world. We don’t know what’s around the next corner and what that will mean for both opportunities and challenges for our organizations. Lifelong learning is how you continue to build new skills, new mindsets and new tools to lead in the fog of what today’s business needs.

It’s important for organizations to be structured to allow for, engage with and create opportunities for individuals from the time they start as a new hire, all the way up to when they hopefully reach the C-suite level. The last few years have shown us that organizations that can learn fast and find opportunities in an incredibly complex and challenging environment thrive. Darden EELL is a great partner for creating that ecosystem.

As you grow in your role in the coming year, what are you most looking forward to?

Executive education is an incredibly fun industry to work in. I’m thrilled about building on my first couple of months in this role and seeing what’s possible within Darden Executive Education as well as Lifelong Learning. I love asking clients the question of “How can we imagine the possibilities?” or “What could we create together that combines the best of your organization and the best of Darden?” I look forward to the possibilities of what can be created to drive impact.

Also, I’m excited for the opportunity to engage with world-class faculty members within Darden and UVA, and the ability to engage with a dynamic and innovative team, stakeholders and leaders within the Darden community. In addition, I am excited to be able host reflective learning programs at our soon to be opened The Forum Hotel here at Darden. The world-class learning facility will give us dynamic new opportunities to host clients in Charlottesville as well as on our Rosslyn Grounds. It is an exciting and dynamic time to be at Darden in this forward-looking role.